Titius – Bode Law

Hi there skeptics,

Today I am going to be blogging about a mathematical formula which has had some interest in astronomy in the past, but has since fallen into the waste-bin of science. It has commonly titled as a law, in almost every reference to it and on the Wikipedia page, however, it is best described as an unproven hypothesis, as it has no evidence to support it. The law attempts to represent the approximate distances of the planets from the sun, using the following formula. a = 4 + n, where n = 0, 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 etc., with each new value for n being double the last value. This gives rise to the numbers 4, 7, 10, 16, 28, 52, 100… divide this by 10, 0.4, 0.7, 1, 1.6, 2.8, 5.2, 10… To the 18th century astronomer, this is an astounding set of numbers.

The law was first formulated in 1766 by Johann Titius, who used this simple formula to get these similar numbers. This looked amazing at first, because these numbers fit almost perfectly with the distances in AU (astronomical units) of all the known planets, Mercury through to Saturn. However, there was one number in the sequence that shouldn’t be there, 2.8, no planet was known 2.8 AU from the sun. But sure enough, almost exactly 2.8 AU from the sun, the dwarf planet Ceres was discovered. This was very exiting for astronomers of the time. Could there be a deep, underlying formula to the planets.

They decided to look further, so they started with the next number in sequence, 19.6, and looked from there, and again, triumph, Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781, and you guessed it, it was 19.2 AU from the sun, a mere 2% off the prediction. At this point, astronomers became drunk with enthusiasm, this number sequence is really working well. They went the next step, 38.8, but no, nothing was found. Neptune eventually became the next planet in order, but at 30.1 AU from the sun, it was 29% off, and the law was waning. Next, Pluto, predicted by Titius – Bode to be 77.2 AU away, alack, incorrect, only 39.5 AU from the sun, a 95% inaccuracy.

By this time, the law had fallen into disrepute. No more Titius – Bode being taken seriously by astronomers. Proponents of the law say that these ratios are being found as correct in other star systems around other stars, but these are stars with 1 or 2 planets, meaning that a ratio can always be found, or fit close, due to the set up of the number system. The idea of there being such a simple number which underlies all of the orbits is not one of favour in the astronomical community.

Who knows, there could be a number formula which describes the orbits of planets around a star. There must be, because they all follow the same laws of gravity. But the idea that there is a simple number sequence, not a large, abstract equation with hundreds of influencing factors, is a fringe opinion. Planets could naturally snap into particular grooves around their sun, but no number sequence has stood up to the challenge yet, so science tells us that it probably won’t exist.


New Health Problems Found for Astronauts

Hello there, skeptical Bros.,

I was logged onto the computer at school yesterday (we had a computer lesson), and because there was nothing else to be done in class, I was reading through the abc.net.au news section, and I came across a new study in Astronauts. Because my immediate reaction to anything with space or astronauts is “READ READ READ!”, I read it, and it turns out that there could be new health risks for astronauts who spend long amounts of time in micro-gravity. The title here –>http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-13/study-finds-eye-problems-common-for-astronauts/3886698, Reads ‘Study finds eye problems common for astronauts’ and my heart sunk.

It turns out that this latest study have found yet another thing which astronauts have to worry about. It has been known for a long time that there would be long-term health effects for people who live in micro-gravity, but these were thought to be things like hearts and muscles loosing their strength. This study has shown that the brain and eyes have been effected, because of an unexplained pressure in the head, which causes excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic-nerve, and a flattening of the eyeball and bulging of the optic nerve, in roughly one-fifth of astronauts who spent more than a month on space-shuttle or ISS flights. But I’m not going to talk about the physiology, that’s not my niche, read that in the link above, I’m going to talk about what it means for longer term flights to Mars.

The solution for things like weak hearts and muscles was simple, exercise the heart and muscles by jogging for a while every day. But the solution to this problem is not so apparent, we can’t exercise our optical nerve.
We can’t fight the effect of micro-gravity, so we have to fight the cause. NASA scientists need to find a way to stop this unknown pressure, and the first thing we need to do is find out what this pressure is. A bit of study on the ISS should definitely be done.

I’m really disappointed because of what this means for Mars trips in the future. This is just one more item on NASA’s list of “Things we have to figure out before we fly to Mars”, along with radiation, water, food, power, shelter etc., all major problems to humans. Space Shuttle flights went for about a month or so, ISS shifts go for about 6 months, but a trip to Mars would take in excess of two years, so the effects we see here, could be greatly magnified. But you know what, I’m confident that science will find a solution to this problem, and then we will go to Mars, but this problem should be one of the first things worried about, because humans health are of the top priority.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Hawking, “Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.”, Stephen Hawking, Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, author, lecturer and Science Popularizer of some note.

Another battery we will never see again?

Buenas noches,

Today’s post will be about an article I first saw at physicsworld.com. It is titled ‘Graphene in new ‘battery’ breakthrough?’, and when I first saw it, i had the normal reaction of “Here we go, another new battery technology which will be hyped up but we will never see on shelves.” but I decided to have a look into it, because sometimes there is some pretty interesting physics at hand. To be honest, there may be something to this, because once you see past the badly worded title, it is not your average battery article.

The difference between this battery and normal battery technology is a few things. It does have what all new battery technologies must have, larger battery lives, but it also has something which could be very useful in almost every situation, it is powered by the ambient heat in its surroundings.

Now, normally, when we hear about the latest battery technology, you can usually list a few good applications for it, but with something like this, the list would be shorter if you listed what it wouldn’t be useful for… like trekking in the tundra or living on Mars.

You may be asking, “How does this new battery work?”, well, I am going to explain it to you now.
It appears to be yet another victory for graphene. We are all familiar with ions, positively charged atoms. Well, when in an aqueous solution, ions move around with a whole heap of speed at room temperature. A lot of  energy can be produced just with the heat around us.

The experiments where conducted by Zihan Xu and his colleagues, and they made this battery by adding gold and silver electrodes to a strip of graphene (a sheet of carbon one atom thick). When putting six of these devices in series in a copper-chloride ion solution, they found that they could produce a voltage of more than 2V, this is plenty enough to power an LED light. It is an interesting concept, and is not yet at the stage of being able to run a car on it, but it is a limitless energy supply and it seems scaleable.

That’s enough of me for today, I leave you with a quote from Edward Teller, “A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no-one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.” Edward Teller, father of the Hydrogen Bomb and theoretical physicist of some note.